NY’s Snow Parking Problem

When I went to school at the University at Albany, I lived in the downtown dorms which meant that if I wanted to have a car I had to deal with street parking.

During my first snowstorm I heard on the radio that a Snow Emergency was in effect, and that all of the cars parked on the “odd” side of the street needed to be moved. No further explanation was offered.

What they meant was, move your car, because we are plowing the street, and we will tow you if you are in our way.

I paused, and thought about my car. I had been having difficulty in re-learning how to parallel park. In the suburbs this is an often-maligned part of the drivers exam, and my skills were in development. The most difficult thing to master I found was not DMV style parallel parking, but what I dubbed reverse parallel parking, which (in my mind) is parking on a one-way street, but with the driver’s side against the curb.

I considered my parking situation; “What could be odder than parking in the dreaded reverse parallel?” Therefore an “odd” side of the street must clearly be where the driver side is adjacent to the curb. Using this warped calculus I determined that I was parked in a way that was “normal” and, in my ignorance I decided to leave my car where it was and not worry about moving it until the next day.

The fact that all homes on one side of a street are numbered evenly, and all homes on the other side of a street are numbered odd, never crossed my mind. This mistake led me to an inevitable labyrinth of bus travel and trudging through unshoveled sidewalks into an industrial neighborhood to release my car from the impound lot.

The only saving grace was when I got back to my dorms, I had a simple clear place to parallel park my vehicle.

Contrast this to Brooklyn right now. I can’t walk outside my apartment without hearing a loud “Whrrr! Whrrr!” of tires hopelessly spinning in an icy rut. For the first week, I was a good neighbor; I would help push cars out of the ice and over the hump of frozen block of snow between the plowed street and their vehicle, but I tired quickly. The second week I would point out to drivers that they could buy some Kitty Litter from the local bodega and use that for traction, and now as the season has worn on, when I hear the spinning of tires on the block, I do nothing but shake my head and sigh.

I understand for NYC this is not a typical winter season. We have had a series of consistent snowstorms, and few warm days to melt the snow in between. The snow on the street has been compounded by multiple storms, and the parking situation (which is usually barely tolerable), has become unbearable. Parking spaces are either perennially occupied by snow entombed vehicles, or have become a set of icy foothills that must be scaled with the clever use of torque.

A quick look at the NYC DOT Twitter feed (@NYCASP) shows that policy has something to do with this. Since January 20th we have had suspended all alternate side of the street parking rules. I imagine this decision was probably made so that we do not inconvenience drivers, and maybe because of safety concerns. It looks good on the surface; incentivize people to not drive in bad weather and give them ample time to dig themselves out. In theory this should keep the streets more clear of traffic during bad weather and keep everyone safer. This is just a guess of course, as the City’s Snow Removal Plan has no mission statement, or theory written into it, only a technical differentiation of street values, and a methodology to get the job done. Street parking is not even addressed; the only mention of parking is related to municipal lots.


It become clear as you review the document that the City is only concerned with plowing and salting the “roadway” i.e. navigable sections of the street.

This means that even when Alternate side parking is back on schedule, there is no effort to salt or plow areas and improve parking.

Towing in Albany is aggressive (an issue they’ve addressed since my graduation) … I found that during my tenure as a student I wound up at a tow yard more than a few times. However, despite my personal difficulties they have the policy correct. People should be forced to move their cars, and the entire street should then be cleared and salted to allow for the regular business of street parking. Even though the amount of snowfall we’re experiencing this year is unusual for NYC, there is mounting evidence that it will become more common, and this important gap in the road clearing policy should be addressed.

Today I saw people using various garden tools to attempt to free their car, yesterday my wife saw someone with an axe; the constant snowfall and refreezing has made shoveling out your car into an excavation. Being forced to move your car once per snow storm may be annoying, but the situation as it now stands is ridiculous. We already have an alternate side parking system in place, we just need to use it for more than litter. Even if a few naive students end up getting towed, it will be worth it for a quick return to normalcy.


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2 Comments on “NY’s Snow Parking Problem”

  1. Eugene Riel February 17, 2014 at 7:27 pm #

    Good luck with finding a solution for that. That was one of the main reasons that drove me out of the city. The property owners blow their snow out of their driveways and off their sidewalks directly onto my car, and the plow plows it onto my car. The property owners should be fined severely for putting their snow on the street and parked cars. No hope of that changing anytime soon.


    • Scott Grimm-Lyon February 18, 2014 at 7:53 am #

      In Albany you actually get a ticket if you are seen shoveling snow into the street. In NYC when I start shoveling the snow into the space between the curb and the walkway I get yelled at by building maintenance crews. I think for NY it’s usually such a short season that they don’t care to pass a law, but something should be done about it.


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